Researchers discover ‘magic Ria Formosa micro-algae’ with massive potential

It is the latest discovery by researchers at the University of the Algarve’s Centro de Ciências do Mar and it involves a micro-algae with massive potential.

The tiny organism could be used to create biodiesel, purify waste water and may even find a niche in the food production industry.

Talking to Lusa news agency, João Varela – one of the three investigators behind this latest CCMAR coup – said the microalgae hails from the coastal waters of Ria Formosa and was discovered in the laboratory using a technique that “allows for the study of thousands and thousands of cells in minutes for a determined characteristic”.

In this case, the programmed characteristic was “rich in bio-oils, normally known as lipids (fats)”.

The ‘magic’ came when Varela and his colleagues discovered the microalgae produces “really large quantities of lipids”, creating a quality of biofuel that is “greatly superior to the majority of microalgae currently in commercial use”.
The way ahead now is to try and adapt this new Ria Formosa triumph for industrial use.

This is being done in collaboration with AlgaFarm, a joint venture funded by Portuguese cement giant Secil aimed at “developing technologies to mitigate the impact of CO2 release”.

As Varela explained this is cutting-edge science. Right now there are no production methods of microalgae that compete favourably with that of conventional petrodiesel, therefore “it is important to find other distinct applications” for this new discovery.

It has already been “tested in effluents” at water treatment centres, and found to be “sufficiently robust to treat wastewater in a way that normal processes cannot”, he told Lusa.

“The microalgae is not sensitive to antibiotics which due to human consumption end up in waste water and kill bacteria”, he explained.

Elsewhere, the discovery could be used in the production of animal feed, or “innovative foods for human consumption”, said Varela, bearing in mind that microalgae are already used in “cakes, cod fishcakes and food supplements”.

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